The Delhi High Court Tuesday extended till August 11 the time period for giving suggestions to the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 and said that the court was surprised at the Centre’s “obstinacy” in not addressing the “ambiguity” in it. June 30 was the new deadline set by the Environment Ministry for the objections.
While noting the ambiguity in the ministry’s decision extending time till June 30 for giving objections and suggestions to its draft EIA 2020, a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan said “it was “surprised” by “obstinacy” of the Centre with regard to not addressing the “ambiguity”.”
The detailed order on the direction issued by the court is awaited.
The court was hearing a plea by environmentalist Vikrant Tongad, who has sought extension of the timeline granted to the public to give suggestions regarding the EIA 2020, ending on June 30, to September 30 or till the time the Covid-19 lockdown subsists.
The bench passed the order and extended the time, after the ministry did not address the court’s query regarding “ambiguity” in its decision.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for Tongad, submitted that it was “disturbing” that the government, as per its affidavit, has sent e-mails to over 78,000 project proponents informing them about the draft EIA and inviting their suggestions, but was not willing to publish it in vernacular languages so that everyone who would be affected by such projects can also give their view.
Additional Solicitor General Maninder Acharya, appearing for the Centre, submitted that the draft EIA 2020 was published on April 11 and 60 days from then was to expire on June 11, but in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was decided to extend the period till June 30.
Earlier, the High Court had observed that there is ambiguity in the May 8 notification and had asked the Central government how it will be resolved. In the last hearing, it had issued notice to the Centre and sought their response on the matter.
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During the hearing today, referring to the response filed by the ministry in Tongad’s plea, the bench orally observed that “absolutely no effort has been made to address the court’s query on ambiguity. Your reply is conspicuously silent about it. It amounts to not answering our query.”
It said that it was not pleased with “this attitude” of the government and added that the process of public consultation was “not an obstacle”. “It (consultation) has some importance, it has some sanctity,” it said.
As per the petition, on March 23 this year, the ministry published a draft notification on Environmental Impact Assessment and sought objections or suggestions from members of the public.
The petition claimed that the May 8 notification states the period for inviting objections has been extended by another 60 days, but it is not clear as to when the initial period of 60 days commenced.
“If the sixty-day period commences on the date of the draft notification, i.e., March 23, 2020, the extended date of expiry will be July 18, 2020. If the date of notification in the Gazette (i.e. April 11, 2020) is taken as the start of the sixty-day period, the extended date of expiry will be August 9, 2020,” the petition said.
It contended that the postal services have been suspended, in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, on account of which citizens cannot send their objections to the government.
“As a result of this, the members of public have been unable to comment on a substantive notification that completely supersedes and replaces the existing environmental norms,” the plea added.
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